Cool or Drool: NBA Rookie Begins Reckless Rampage

Dan Bisno, Columnist

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The NBA season is finally in high gear, and it only took six weeks for a rookie to make a fool of himself. It’s always a waiting game after the NBA draft: Which soon-to-be rich 19-year-old draftee is going to show the world that, despite having a pro­fessional career, he acts his age? The third pick from the 2015 NBA draft to the Philadelphia 76ers Jahlil Oka­for answered that call.

After an explosive start to the season — averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds per game — it would be unfair to expect Okafor to tuck himself into bed before cur­few and stick to mineral water. In fact, Okafor reportedly attempted to purchase alcoholic beverages with a fake ID at a bar, appropriately named Misconduct Tavern, in Cen­ter City, Philadelphia. How does an almost seven-foot-tall man who is famous all over Philadelphia expect a bartender not to recognize him? His face is on billboards! While his representative denies the incident, something seems fishy. Why is he always out at 3 a.m.? Is he watching the sky to see if the stars are differ­ent than the ones in Chicago? Prob­ably not.

We would let Okafor off the hook for the fake ID incident if three other reports had not come out around the same time. First, Okafor admit­ted to being pulled over for driving at 108 mph on a 45-mph road. Then, in early October, Okafor allegedly attacked an armed heckler in a car outside of an Old City nightclub. Lastly, TMZ released a video show­ing Okafor attacking a man in the streets outside of a Boston nightclub on Thanksgiving. According to the Boston Police Department, the vic­tim sustained an injury that had to be treated with stitches.

It all happened so fast for Oka­for. Not long ago, he was taking his high school team to the Illinois High School Association class 4A cham­pionship and later headed to the National Collegiate Athletic Asso­ciation tournament championship with Duke University. This same kid was offered a basketball scholarship to DePaul University when he was in eighth grade. Okafor has known for a while that he was bound for success, but maybe constant reminders of this fact did not prepare him for reality. Perhaps he is bit­ter that D’angelo Russell was chosen second by the Los Angeles Lakers in the draft. Most analysts expected Okafor to land there. Still, he is younger than half of the student body at Oberlin, and he is in the national spotlight.

Veteran NBA players have offered their support to Okafor. Carmelo Anthony pointed out that, like Okafor, he “had to learn the hard way.” For those who remember Antho­ny’s early career in Denver, they know that he has now nearly abolished his reputation as a reckless young superstar driving fancy cars and hanging around nightclubs. Kobe Bryant had some advice of his own to offer, saying, “It’s important for him to stay focused and to continue to work on his game, and he’ll be just fine.”

Ultimately, that’s what Okafor has public­ly announced he intends to do. While he has apologized and admitted, “It was definitely dumb on my part,” his Twitter feed is also overflowing with positive statements about the future. His last post reads, “I am 100% focused on my responsibility to the League, my teammates and fans.” Unlike many oth­er young sports stars, like Johnny Manziel, Okafor did not have a reckless reputation in college. He has even retained support from his former college coach, the living legend Mike Krzyzewski. Since the recent events occurred, Krzyzewski has said, “Jah is one of the greatest kids ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever.”

Still, the 76ers’ front office felt obligated to suspend Okafor for two games — although it is worth noting that this changes nothing for a team that is dead last with a mind-blowing one win. They released a statement following the suspension, saying, “Jahlil is a very important part of our organization and our future. While we are disappointed with his recent actions, we have faith in him as a valued member of the Sixers.” Per usual, a player’s reckless actions in their personal life go relatively unpunished, but in this case, everyone wants to believe that these actions do not accurately represent Okafor. Instead, fans are idealizing his future, projecting a quick return to the good, basketball-focused kid they remember from his Duke days.

While Okafor is the most recent rookie to garner public attention for his exciting off-field antics, he is part of a larger pattern with the younger players in the professional leagues. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has previously suggested that players should be required to play college basketball, or an equivalent form, for two years before they are eligible for the draft, as opposed to the one year currently required. Before the 2006 draft, players could declare for the draft straight out of high school.

Would Okafor’s actions be any different if he had played at Duke for two years? Given the rate at which college basketball is becom­ing more popular, players at Duke and simi­lar universities are already treated like su­perstars. They are surrounded by boundless opportunities for drugs, alcohol and other irresponsible behaviors, as well as nearly the same media pressure observed in the profes­sional leagues. The only difference is that they’re not making millions of dollars. But perhaps Silver is right, and an extra year to mature before the big paychecks arrive could save some players trouble or embarrassment.

Overall, we have to give Okafor a “drool.” Sorry, bud. While his family and friends have supported him throughout his mistakes, and his apologies have the air of upmost sincerity, he will need to prove to the NBA that he can handle the money, fame and responsibility. At only 19 years old, he is bound to be the face on young children’s posters and potentially be the star of the 76ers for years to come. Good luck, Jahlil — prove Silver wrong!

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